My dear friends,
I am so blessed today to be able to share with you by the Spirit of God the grace and love God has poured out for us all in abundance. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35) and I have no greater way of showing you love than to share with you the way God has changed my life and is making us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. I don’t know what I’m going to be yet, but I know what I was and I’m so grateful I’m not that anymore. He led me through a lot yesterday, today, and by faith he will lead me tomorrow. I’m here to assure you today that there is a way of life that works. It comes by trusting in, believing in, and clinging to Jesus in faith.
Romans 6:28 tells us that “the wages of sin is death”. I can tell you that when I rebelled against God again and again it came with consequences. I had to live through those consequences and I don’t want to have to do that ever again. I was not ignorant of sin, I was ignorant of the goodness of God. I did not really trust God, if I had really trusted him I would have become truly honest with myself and I would have confessed my true state before God and come to Christ in true repentance. Instead, for many years I tried to apply religion and intellectual learning to my life in order to find a quick easy solution to why I found more pleasure in sin than in God’s love. I kept turning to people to fix me, and they would try, but I still loved my sin more than God because I believed that God could not love me, my heart was too dark, I was too bent, and I was not worthy of anyone’s love.
I had people come along and try to tell me, “Awww Chris, you’re not that bad. It’ll get better. Buck up little guy.” And I wanted to believe them, I really did. But every time I sinned I proved to myself anew again that shame was my master, that self-pity was my bitter choice of drink, and that anarchical pride was my god. Now all of us are different. There are so many variations in the ways we talk, move, think, and express ourselves. But the human condition is the same. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23)
Many people get hung up over what that means. They hang on the idea of little innocent babies going to hell for not being baptized. So they don’t like that word sin anymore or what it implies. They want to believe that people are basically good. That the human condition at its core is a blank slate, and that with the right amount of positive cognitive stimuli and productive environmental conditions anyone can arrive at their full human potential.
We have two centuries of scientific progress and pursuit of learning to prove that the human condition is sound. So I ask you, where are these perfect human beings? What nation can we turn to on earth that has successfully rid itself of all poverty, all sickness, all suffering, all fear, all fatigue, and has also opened its doors so that the rest of the world can immigrate there?
I tried to free myself from the notion of God after repeated attempts to get God to give me a wonder drug that would keep me from destroying myself. I spent hours alone in the recesses of my mind. I had a little cave in my head that I hid in. On the outside I would go to college, go to work, go to church, go to the beach, go to the park, walk down the street. But between my ears I was lost inside myself. I was bound by self pity, resentment, rage, anger and fear. I was in and out of counseling, therapy, and support groups.
I did the right things over and over for a while, but then it was back to my cave. I had friends that tried so hard to help but they just couldn’t understand. “Chris is a Christian, what’s wrong with him? He knows the truth. What’s wrong with him?” So inside, between my ears, I was on the run from God, and was planning my ultimate escape.
My problem was that I was too much of a coward to do on the outside what it was I did everyday on the inside. I was never a cutter, someone who uses a knife on themselves. But in my mind I hated myself. I had so much faith in how awful I was, and I was living by that faith. It hurts to talk about it now, but I believe it might help someone here who can identify, to say, “Yeah, I’ve been there too.”
“So how did you move out of it?” you ask. I should begin by saying that when I describe what I went through I am not identifying myself with any particular 12 step fellowship. I can only refer to some experiences and allude to material, but I have never been in Alcoholics Anonymous. So let me begin. At first I tried the 12 steps of AA self-styled. I got myself a copy of the Serenity New Testament that is like a companion to 12 step literature and I worked through the steps in an afternoon and thought, “This is simple. I can write my first and fourth step right now.” All the other steps I knew I already believed, so I just fast-tracked it, audited the course, wrote myself the diploma and felt better.
Stupid. I was right back into anarchical pride and the same old behavior within a short time. But the thought of the first step (“I admitted that I was powerless over x, that my life had become unmanageable”) stayed with me. Am I really so self-centered? I didn’t want to think about that. So for many years thereafter I dodged the question. Then one day, I just couldn’t dodge the question anymore. I knew after a lot of pain and heart-ache, after putting the people I loved through hell and getting to the point that no one could trust me anymore, I realized, yes, I am truly that selfish. I wanted to BE God that badly. And so finally, instead of agreeing that maybe a recovery program was helpful for some really messed up people, I started into recover for myself. I made it through the door.
For a while that’s where I stayed. I admitted I was licked. It took a while for me to come to believe that God was greater than my sin and that he wanted to restore me to sanity. And it took an even longer time for me to turn my will and life over to God’s care as I understood him, because I wasn’t convinced He wanted my will, and my life or that He CARED, and I certainly didn’t understand Him. It was all I could do to keep coming back. I kept listening. I finally learned to shut up an listen. In time I had fewer and fewer excuses and more and more resolve to admit how selfish I was. Then I came to the place where I listened to an agnostic tell me about how the God that worked for him really loved him and had his best interests in mind. I finally reasoned that if a guy who didn’t claim to understand God perfectly was willing to just do what it took to get sober and learned along the way that a higher power loved him, what was wrong with me? I wanted that God too! I wanted the God that was for me as sick as I was.
And then I remembered this passage from the Bible, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man ;though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Immediately the devil came along and told me, “Nawww, you’re a hypocrite. A liar! A con! No one will trust you ever again. You can’t sin and go to church and repent as many times as you did and have God trust you. You’re too much of a sinner.” But then I started reading the Bible again. It says that as sick as I was, God showed how much He loved me because Christ died for me.
And I will call heaven and earth and God himself as my witness that the same is true for you! Christ died for you! God is for you! God even loves back-stabbing, rumor mongering, crooked liars who go to church and then go home and spread all kinds of hateful gossip. Why? Because he sees them at their worst, all soaped up and in their best hats on Sunday morning. And he desires that they repent and come to stop playing God and playing church and get off the sick little throne between their ears and accept His LOVE!
After a few years, the God who loved me, who was for me, did something I would have never thought to hope for. See, when I got into recovery I considered that my calling. I was content to go to meetings and work the steps and pray each day to help the next person who’s still sick. But God started calling me to be a pastor in the very ministry I had run away from years before. I said to God, “If this is really your will you’re gonna have to help me, because I don’t really see it. You got to show my wife and my family. You got to show my pastors and my sponsor.” I thought that would keep Him off my back. But then he did all that.
Everyone gave me the green light. And I wanted to tell God, “Naw you’re crazy. I can’t work with my family in full time ministry down there.” But then God asked, “Do you trust me?” And I knew that I had learned through trial and error that God loved me and that He had a purpose for my life. I knew that I loved homeless people and people in recovery and preaching the gospel and praying for the sick, and there was this great need down here. So we trusted God and stepped out in faith with no PLAN B. There was no retirement plan. No benefits package. No insurance. No hedging my bets. Just God’s question, “Do you trust me?” It was a funny question, because before recovery I was always angry that I couldn’t be trusted. I wanted people to trust me but I knew I couldn’t trust myself.
My whole life has become one of trust in God. That was how he intended it all along. It’s one thing to say, “Yeah, I trust God.” But when I’m living in my head with all kinds of resentment, anger and shame I don’t trust him. So learning to trust God means, even when we’re scared of bed bugs, TB, running out of gas, that guy looks like he wants to kill me, those drug pushers on the corner, those property owners that consider us a nuisance, those bills that are too big and the donations that are too little, my security, my confidence, my trust is in God!
God IS everything that He requires. He wants me to be full of his love because He is all the love I need. Look again at 1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV). Let’s read this aloud together:
1 “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
If sin is rebellion against God in big and small ways, trying to BE God ourselves, then love is its opposite. Galatians 5:23 tells us “there is no law against” the fruits of the Spirit, the first of which is love. Matthew 22:36-40 gives us the secret of a life that works, and its all about love! Jesus was asked:
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law ?” 37 And He said to him, ” ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
No one but God can command that we love Him with such totality. No one but God can command that we love our neighbor as ourselves. His commands are in keeping with his intention in creating us. We were meant to love. Now if I went to the inventor of the first athletic shoe and I said, “I love to use your product as a bowl for potato salad”, he might say to me, “But why would you do that? It’s a shoe. Meant to be worn on the feet. Why not just get a bowl and spoon?”
And when we go to God and say, “Humans have been around for a while. They’re great for making money, growing food, pleasuring themselves, building tall buildings, for staring into electronic devices, and for using as targets for drone strikes,” we are reminded that this is not what humans are really for. We’re made for loving God. We’re made for loving each other.
Dr. Kent M. Keith penned “the Paradoxical Commandments,” and they were hung on the wall of Missionaries of Charity in CalcuttaIndia.
“People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.”
I used to ask all the time, “What’s the use!?!” Why would we do anything of these things “anyway”? I can only tell you why I do them now. It’s because Jesus Christ died for this hypocrite to show him the love of God. To live for anything else but the love of God is a wasted life indeed.
Some good things are very hard, but they are worth doing, so don’t quit. Don’t get distracted, don’t lose heart, and don’t give up. These good things may not win you honor, and in fact they may cause you to be dishonored. Don’t give up. What you do for Christ lasts. So do all things for love of Christ. Christ’s love will help you do this good for Him. His love will envelope you and make you what he desires.
Love in Christ,
Rev. Chris L. Rice